Of all the runs in the NFL on Sunday, the best one might have come from a 39-year-old quarterback. And he broke out a spin move to leave two defenders in his wake.
Drew Brees will stop amazing us someday, but not yet.
Brees said after the game that the Saints didn’t get the coverage they expected for the play called.
“Looking for open guys but knowing, hey, this is probably a scramble play,” Brees said. “So get out and scramble, unfortunately the side that vacated is the side I really have no receivers. They ran to the other side of the field.”
Brees went left, with no receivers to throw to, and started motioning and hoping his receivers would rally back that way. Cornerbacks Robert Alford and Brian Poole were bearing down on Brees, and somehow this …
… turned into a running touchdown from a guy with a 1.7-yard rushing average over his career. Brees’ spin move and score tied the game with 1:15 to go.
Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins told Larry Holder of The Athletic when he watched the two defenders coming at Brees, he thought “Please don’t kill him.” A second later Brees was in the end zone.
“I said, ‘That’s why he’s Drew,’” Rankins told Holder.
Overtime gave us some more conventional Brees magic. Brees, who would finish with 396 yards, led the Saints on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that spanned 7:05. Brees completed two big passes on third downs to keep the drive going. He finished the drive jumping over the top for a touchdown on a quarterback sneak, a move he’s done plenty of times before. It always seems to work.
And the Saints, who were shaky over a 1-1 start to the season, had a crucial 43-37 win over the Falcons in a fantastic game. Brees became the first player in NFL history with 350 yards passing, three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns without an interception in a single game, according to Herbie Teope of NFL.com. Oh, he also set the NFL record for career completions.
And it didn’t even seem like something out of the ordinary for Brees. He’s been doing this for more than a decade.
When Brees’ career is done, where will he rank among all-time quarterbacks? He has five of the nine 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history. He has records for single-season and career completion percentage. Luke Johnson of NOLA.com had a great stat last week: Brees could throw 137 straight incompletions and still be the most accurate passer in league history. That was before Brees went 39-of-49 on Sunday.
It’s hard to imagine looking at Brees’ resume – which includes the all-important Super Bowl ring – and not putting him among the top five quarterbacks ever. There’s not a box he doesn’t check to be in that club. And he’s still got performances like Sunday in him.
Another Super Bowl championship would boost his legacy. That could have happened last season, but the Saints defense let the Minneapolis Miracle happen. This season the Saints looked well short of a Super Bowl contender in losses to the Buccaneers and a lucky win over the Browns. And the Saints gave up a ton of points and yards to the Falcons, and trailed late. Not many contenders start 1-2 with two divisional losses.
Brees saved the day, like he has so many times before. This time he did so when he ran left, had no receivers to throw to, and spun two defenders out of their shoes to score. Of all the unexpected things to happen on Sunday, that might have topped the list.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 2 of the NFL:
Khalil Mack, again: Maybe Mack will take up permanent residence in the winners space this season.
The Bears had no business winning Sunday, but Mack turned the game in Chicago’s favor. On a Sam Bradford run in the fourth quarter, Mack tracked him down and hit him, forcing a fumble. The Bears, who trailed 14-13, took possession and went on a long drive for a field goal and the lead. The Bears held on to that lead too, and won a game in which they trailed 14-0 and their offense struggled to get much done. The Bears will finish Week 3 all alone in first place of the NFC North.
That’s why the Bears traded so much for Mack and gave him a historic contract. Sometimes it’s just one big play that spins a game around. Mack can make them routine. He finished with five tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Mack is the Defensive Player of the Year favorite very early on. If he keeps this up, he might even get some mention as an MVP candidate.
Mike Vrabel and Marcus Mariota: When Blaine Gabbert got knocked out of Sunday’s game, Vrabel and his Tennessee Titans were on the road against a menacing Jacksonville Jaguars defense, playing quarterback Marcus Mariota, who reportedly still has numbness in two fingers on his throwing hand due to an elbow injury.
And the Titans won 9-6.
Tennessee’s last two wins weren’t pretty, but they’re 2-1. Some coaches are really good at dragging wins out of their teams when they have no business winning. Maybe rookie coach Vrabel is one of them.
And credit goes to Mariota as well. Despite not being healthy enough to start, Mariota completed 12 of 18 passes for 100 yards. His first-down run on a late third-and-1 was a huge blow to any Jaguars comeback hopes. For a player who has been known for his many injuries, his gutsy performance on Sunday was a big one.
Patrick Mahomes’ MVP candidacy: Hey, why not talk about MVP in September? After all, everyone will be chasing Mahomes for a while.
Mahomes has 13 touchdowns and no interceptions through three games for the Kansas City Chiefs. His rating is an otherworldly 137.4. Small sample size or not, it is one amazing start to the season. The 13 touchdowns are the most through a team’s first three games of a season in NFL history.
Mahomes also leads the league in “did you see that?” throws. He made some more on Sunday against the 49ers. His cannon arm makes it seems like he’s a pitcher throwing 10 mph harder than anyone else. His touchdown pass to Chris Conley in the second quarter, spinning around to avoid the rush like Russell Wilson and then firing a John Elway fastball to Conley in the end zone, was breathtaking.
Who knows how much regression is coming for Mahomes, but it’s worth enjoying this run while it lasts.
The key play for the Dolphins came on a trick, when receiver Albert Wilson hit Jakeem Grant for a 52-yard score. That gave the Dolphins a 21-17 lead and they never trailed again. It was a game the Dolphins should win if they want to be taken seriously, and credit them for not folding after falling behind in the second half.
The Dolphins probably won’t be taken too seriously without a marquee win. That’s what makes next Sunday’s showdown at New England an interesting one.
Bill O’Brien: When O’Brien was keeping the Houston Texans competitive his first few seasons there, even making the playoffs, with chicken salad at quarterback, it seemed like if he ever got a quarterback we’d really see how good O’Brien was as a coach.
Maybe we’re seeing that now.
The Texans are 0-3. Last week they lost to a Tennessee Titans team that had to start Blaine Gabbert. The New York Giants limped in Sunday, with practically nothing from their offense over two games, and beat the Texans 27-22. The score and stats looked better after the Texans scored a meaningless touchdown with 1 second left.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson hasn’t been as great as he was as a rookie last season, but he has been pretty good. The Texans have holes on the roster, but they still have a lot of blue-chip talent. And they’re winless.
O’Brien is 31-36 as Houston’s head coach. There were excuses for the record before – bad quarterbacks, Brock Osweiler working out, Watson’s fluke injury last season – but if the Texans don’t get a lot better in a hurry this season, you have to wonder if patience in O’Brien will run out.
Packers and Vikings, but especially the Vikings: What happened to the presumptive favorites in the NFC North on Sunday?
The Packers were at least on the road against a decent Washington team when they got blown out. The Redskins outplayed the Packers from beginning to end in a 31-17 outcome. That’s not ideal but it happens, even to good teams.
The Vikings had one of the most embarrassing losses you’ll ever see on Sunday. The Bills looked inept over the first two games and blasted the Vikings 27-6. That lays at the feet of coach Mike Zimmer, who didn’t have his team ready for a winnable game at home, and it also reflects poorly on Kirk Cousins, who followed up a great Week 2 game at Green Bay with a huge egg Sunday.
The Bears’ offense could prevent them from being a true contender in the division, and the Lions still have to prove they’re at that level. It’ll probably still be the Packers and Vikings vying for the NFC North by the end of the season. But there’s a lot more doubt about that after Sunday.
Anyone trying to get a jump on the Philadelphia Eagles when they were banged up: The Eagles are probably quite pleased with a 2-1 start.
They have been beat up by injuries, but still find a way. Sunday was a good example. The win won’t go in many highlight films. The Eagles were working Carson Wentz back while dealing with significant injuries at running back and receiver. And they came back to win.
The Indianapolis Colts led early in the fourth quarter. Then the Eagles went on a 17-play, 75-yard drive to take back the lead. Wendell Smallwood, who began the season as the fourth running back, scored the go-ahead touchdown. It’s the kind of win that pays off later. The Eagles will get healthier. Wentz will get even sharper, though he wasn’t bad on Sunday, his first game since last December when he tore his ACL.
If there was a window for the rest of the league to put the Eagles in a hole to start the season, it’s probably closed. Philadelphia is 2-1 and only going to get better.
The NFC West race: Maybe the Seattle Seahawks showed signs of a rebirth on Sunday, though that might have just been the byproduct of facing a terrible Dallas Cowboys offense.
It seems like unless something crazy happens soon, the Los Angeles Rams might have a division title wrapped up by about Thanksgiving.
The Rams look awesome. Jared Goff had perhaps the best game of his career on Sunday against the Chargers with 354 yards and three touchdowns. The Chargers have a talented roster and didn’t look anywhere near the Rams’ class in a 35-23 loss.
The biggest reason the NFC West might not be too competitive this season happened in Kansas City on Sunday. 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with what the team believes is a torn ACL. Assuming that’s the case, the 49ers won’t be able to keep up with the Rams. Unless the Seahawks come around, nobody will.